Playoffs: Oswalt or Worley?

Over the past two weeks or so, the Phillies’ #4 starter in the playoffs has been the topic of discussion. Roy Oswalt has the tenure and the track record, but Vance Worley has been incredibly successful in his 19 starts this year. I don’t want to rehash all of the arguments (on the topic, David Hale does a nice dissection here), but I’d like to add one viewpoint that I haven’t seen presented yet.

Earlier this morning, I went into Philly to tape today’s episode of Stathead on Phillies 24/7 HD radio. Our topics of conversation for the hour focused entirely on pitching, with Oswalt/Worley leading off the show. I expected to simply praise the hell out of Worley and end the segment on that note, but my co-host Jeff Sottolano made what I think is an excellent argument in favor of starting Oswalt #4 in the playoffs, and it has nothing to do with stats.

Oswalt is an 11-year MLB veteran, so he’s certainly “earned it”, as they say. Previously, Oswalt hinted at retiring after the season, so this could be his final shot at a championship. Out of simple respect for the 2,000-plus innings Oswalt has thrown in the Majors, it makes sense to defer to him in lieu of Worley. Additionally, if Oswalt were to be bumped for Worley, wouldn’t that be insulting? Does Charlie Manuel seem like the type of manager who would want anything to do with explaining that to Oswalt? I can’t see it happening. Meanwhile, it’s a relatively easy job to tell Worley he’s going to the ‘pen — he’s not an established Major Leaguer yet, what can he do about it, y’know?

Furthermore, Oswalt has been used out of the bullpen exactly four times since 2003. Worley was used as a reliever as recently as May 13 of this season. Of course, he went on to struggle as a result of his bouncing around between the rotation, the bullpen, and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but that won’t be an issue in the playoffs. Practically speaking, it makes more sense to enter the playoffs with Worley in the ‘pen.

Finally, the #4 spot is mostly a formality anyway. The Phillies have two well-qualified pitchers for one very small role (one start per series). Let’s say Oswalt has a rough go of things in Game 4 of the NLCS (assuming they get there, of course) — they can have Worley stretched out and ready to go, so both end up pitching in the game anyway. Or maybe Oswalt is just fine and it doesn’t matter.

If we’re weighing the pros and cons of the matter, with the agreement that the decision is merely a formality anyway, then it makes sense to give Oswalt the nod even if the stats show Worley to be slightly better (most ERA retrodictors have Worley ahead by about 0.40). That this is even a debate tells you just how good the Phillies are running right now.